Local News

Ex-Lacrosse Player Sues Duke, Instructor Over Failing Grade

Posted January 4, 2007 8:12 p.m. EST
Updated January 5, 2007 8:13 a.m. EST

— A former Duke University lacrosse player sued the university and a former instructor Thursday, alleging that she unfairly gave him a failing grade because he was a member of the team.

Kyle Dowd graduated in May 2006, two months after a woman said she was raped at a lacrosse team party.

The allegations set off a tumultuous few weeks in Durham, with almost daily protests by people who criticized lacrosse team members for a pattern of rowdy behavior.

Dowd's lawsuit alleges that visiting professor Kim Curtis gave him an F in a politics and literature class that nearly prevented him from graduating, even though he had earned passing grades on his assignments to that point.

Dowd and his parents, Patricia and Benjamin Dowd, are asking for a total of $60,000 in punitive and compensatory damages.

"I wanted to prevent such occurrences from happening to another student at Duke," Kyle Dowd told WRAL Thursday night. "I didn't want to see another professor further their political agenda by maliciously hurting another student."

Curtis could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. A Duke University spokesman said he could not comment because he had not seen the lawsuit. Dowd's attorney, Joseph Zeszotarski of Raleigh, was unavailable for an interview Thursday evening.

According to the lawsuit, only one other person in the 40-student class, another lacrosse player, received an F.

"Defendant Curtis engaged in extreme outrageous and unethical conduct ... due to personal bias and prejudice," the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Curtis told Dowd he received a failing grade for participation because he had not attended class and because he made wrong statements in a paper without backing them up.

The lawsuit later says that the university told Dowd that Curtis gave him the F was because he had "confused the characters from the book which was the subject of the paper."

The lawsuit claims Dowd missed six out of 30 classes — one an excused absence for a lacrosse match and the other five resulting because of the criminal investigation involving the lacrosse team.

Each time, according to the lawsuit, Dowd had sent an e-mail to Curtis informing her about his absence.

The lawsuit also states that Curtis, a visiting assistant professor at the time who specialized in political theory and feminist theory, was listed in support of an advertisement in The Duke Chronicle, a campus paper, that sympathized with the alleged victim.

It also states that Curtis also sent an e-mail to students in her class letting them know that she was available to talk about "how this is affecting you, what we should do as a community, etc."

Dowd appealed the grade, and the university changed it to a D, citing a calculation error. He and his parents ask in the lawsuit for the grade to be changed to a "P" for passing.

Lacrosse players Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and Dave Evans still face charges of sexual offense and kidnapping in the case. Rape charges were dropped last month after the accuser wavered in her account of key details in the case.

The next pretrial hearing is scheduled for Feb. 5.